Wool, a versatile and natural fiber, has been an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years. From cozy sweaters to luxurious carpets, wool products have found their way into our everyday lives. Ever wonder what wool actually is and how we obtain it from animals? More importantly, how does this wool get transformed into sweaters and other types of apparel?
Step 1: Shearing the Flock
The first step in obtaining wool is shearing the sheep. Professional shearers skillfully remove the fleece from the sheep’s body using specialized electric clippers. Shearing is a crucial process that not only yields wool but also helps maintain the health and well-being of the sheep.
It takes place once a year, typically in spring, ensuring that the sheep are comfortable throughout the rest of the year. A proficient shearer can shear 100+ sheep in a day. This shearing can be done in two ways: blade shearing or machine shearing.
Blade shearing involves using a tool similar to a scissor with two blades. The cutting edges (blades) pass each other as the shearer squeezes them together and cuts off the wool (obviously without cutting the skin).
Although it may seem like shearing would be easy, it requires some degree of skill, and importantly, patience. Remember, sheep aren’t really accustomed to getting haircuts like us. Many of them are frightened during the shearing activity. Thus, a good sheep shearer needs to have compassion for animals and patience when dealing with them.
Blade shearing is a conventional method, but not a very efficient way of removing wool. That’s why shearing is often done by machines, rather than rudimentary blades. That being said, blade shearing is more appropriate for places that experience cold climates throughout the year, because with this method, some amount of wool will remain on the sheep’s body, which bodes well for these colder conditions.
Machine shearing is a more advanced and effective method of sheep shearing. In this method, an electric power-driven toothed blade trimmer instrument called a cutter is used to trim wool off the sheep. The shearer carefully drives this cutter back and forth over the surface to trim all the wool from the sheep’s body.
Once the sheep are sheared, they can go back to their usual lives without any complications. Although blade shearing or machine shearing techniques are usually employed with a shearer operating the respective tool, new technologies are being explored wherein the whole process can be automated using advanced robots!
How Do We Convert Wool Into Clothing?
Now we know how wool is procured from sheep and how we might robotically automate this process in the future, but now the more important question is… what happens to this wool and how does it get converted into apparel?
Well, the wool obtained from sheep shearing is taken to a wool factory, technically called a mill. At the mill, wool undergoes several stages of processing before the final woolen wear is knitted. The first stage in this process is sorting.
Step 2: Sorting and Cleaning
After shearing, the raw wool is collected and undergoes a series of steps to prepare it for further processing. The wool is sorted based on its quality, fiber length, and color. It is then thoroughly cleaned to remove impurities such as dirt, grease, and vegetable matter.
This process, known as scouring, involves washing the wool with warm water and mild detergent to ensure its cleanliness and purity.
Step 3: Carding and Combing
Once the wool is clean, it undergoes carding and combing processes to align the fibers and remove any remaining tangles or impurities. Carding involves passing the wool through a machine with fine wire teeth, which gently separates and aligns the fibers. Combing, on the other hand, is an optional process used for higher-quality wool. It involves passing the wool through combs to further refine and straighten the fibers.
Step 4: Spinning into Yarn
After carding and combing, the prepared wool is ready to be spun into yarn. Spinning can be done using traditional methods or modern spinning machines. The fibers are drawn out, twisted together, and wound onto spools, resulting in continuous strands of yarn. This yarn can then be further processed and treated to achieve desired characteristics such as softness, strength, or elasticity.
Step 5: Weaving and Knitting
The spun yarn is now ready to be transformed into fabric through weaving or knitting. Weaving involves interlacing the yarns on a loom to create a fabric with a structured pattern. Knitting, on the other hand, involves interlocking loops of yarn to create a flexible and stretchable fabric. Both techniques have their unique characteristics and are used to produce a wide variety of woolen garments, including sweaters, scarves, socks, and blankets.
Step 6: Finishing and Garment Production
Once the fabric is woven or knitted, it undergoes finishing processes to enhance its appearance and properties. This may include washing, dyeing, and treating the fabric to improve its softness, colorfastness, or water resistance. Finally, the finished fabric is cut and sewn into garments by skilled artisans or through automated production methods, resulting in the wide array of woolen clothing we see in stores.
The journey of wool from sheep to clothing is a remarkable blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology. From the careful shearing of the sheep to the intricate processes of cleaning, carding, spinning, and fabric production, each step contributes to the creation of high-quality woolen garments. As we appreciate the warmth, comfort, and style that wool provides, let us also recognize the dedication and skill of the individuals involved in this age-old industry, ensuring that wool continues to play a significant role in our wardrobes for years to come.